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Guest blog: The Daily Mail implies that the Philpott tragedy is the logical outcome of 'benefits culture' - shame on them.

(160 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 03-Apr-13 16:01:13

In a guest post today, MN blogger Rachel Coldbreath responds to today's Daily Mail front page.

Stop the press! Life's certainties have been updated. They now include death, taxes, and the Daily Mail trotting out a dollop of poorly-written hate speech, directed against the most vulnerable group imaginable.

On top of their already dreadful burden, today the Philpotts' surviving children have had to look at a front page that proclaims that they were 'bred... to milk the benefits system'.

We can only guess what must they think about their place in society and their worth to anyone. They are not alone in suffering as a consequence of these headlines, though. The Daily Mail's focus is as much on the notion that people on benefits are 'evil', as on the terrible crimes of the Philpotts and their friend Paul Mosley.

With the Mail insisting that Philpott's 17 children existed to 'net him £60,000 a year in benefits' (that figure is the Mail's), it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a large part of those benefits were for the care - the feeding, the housing, the clothing - of his children. Rather than a life of tax-payer-funded, sextastic Riley, the Philpott's living arrangements look more like crushing poverty.

They lived in a three bed semi with a third adult, Lisa Willis, and her children. Before Willis left that house (taking her children with her), there were three adults and eleven children living together. Even if we assume that the arrangement was cosy enough that all three adults shared a bed, that leaves two bedrooms split between eleven children. I am not sure under what circumstances this setup would be regarded as adequate housing. I am certain that it would not be regarded by any sane person as an incentive to stop working.

When Lisa Willis left the Philpotts' house, the DM informs us that she took with her 'more than £1,000 a month in benefit payments'. We are supposed to think this is an enormous amount of money. It's worth doing the maths here: between Willis and her five children, that £1000 is £166 per month, per person.

Each of those human beings was living on about £37 a week.

Yet the Daily Mail's headlines on this case suggest that murdering six of your children is almost the logical outcome of receiving benefits. As if people who are unemployed or poor for other reasons (disability, illness, being a carer for a sick relative), are an evil-eyed bunch, dodging their responsibilities, churning out children as fast as possible and, behind dirty net curtains, plotting their deaths for fun and profit while raking in great drifts of creased notes.

These headlines are perverse primarily for the fact that they paint Philpott's unique wickedness as an inevitable result of the system designed to pick us all up when we fall. And most of us fall, at some point.

Even as I type this with the BBC News channel on in the background, the presenter has just asked Ann Widdecombe: 'to what extent is [Philpott] representative of people on benefits?'

I am fed up to the back teeth with this rhetoric.

Anyone can lose their job. In fact, with the goverment eroding employee rights it becomes more likely every year. The job market is small and ferocious. Even if you are willing to take a zero-hour contract or part time work. 1,700 people famously applied for eight jobs at Costa, recently. There are 2.5m unemployed, and the government is cheerfully trumpeting about having created a million jobs, many of which are part time and of little help to people with children to feed (and 140,000 of which are people on unpaid internships, training schemes, apprenticeships and workfare schemes, and therefore still receiving benefit), while demonising the 1.5m people for whom there simply is no job.

The Daily Mail is singing backing vocals against the main melody coming out of the Palace of Westminster, from both leading parties. We hear of 'workers and shirkers', 'strivers and skivers'.

What we don't hear about is the people who are too ill or too disabled to work, or who are trapped in a jobless state by having to care for others who are. We hear about people dropping off the disability benefits list - always couched in terms that suggest that they were there fraudulently, never that their condition may have improved. We don't hear about people's already difficult lives being made impossible by the 'bedroom tax' and by ATOS assessments. Westminster and press rhetoric are complicit in the steep rise in the number of hate crimes and attacks against the disabled. We don't hear about that from the Daily Mail.

We don't hear about the people who are on benefits because they work, but are simply not earning enough to survive. Nearly a million households are in this position, and this group forms the majority of benefit claimants.

We don't hear about the people desperately searching for work, and failing to find it.

What we do hear about is the 120,000 'troubled families' the government is investing money in. We hear about the 190 families (out of a population of 56 million) with more than 10 kids, who are on benefits.

And we hear about Philpott. Not in the context of his being a violent human being who knowingly ended the lives of six of his children in order to 'get back at' a woman; but instead we hear him described in terms of how much welfare he took.

It is worth pointing out that the DWP's own figures place benefit fraud at 0.7%. There is little doubt that Philpott himself was in that 0.7%. He was a healthy man who simply did not wish to work. But to hold him up as an example of a whole class of people, the majority of which are on benefits AND working, is a vile trick to play on society. Its effects - not just on the poorest in society, but on us all - are profound. We are sold the same story again and again: that poverty is a choice and it is an immoral choice. That the poor are therefore immoral. That we should require them to suffer for having made this choice, that poverty is not sufficient punishment, they should also, as a class, be loathed.

This attitude fractures our society at its most fundamental level: the assumption that everyone else in it is a human being, that a stranger who falls in front of you on the street should be helped up, not kicked as you pass by.

Finally, I would urge you to read this excellent piece by Ricky Tomlinson. If only there were more like it.

Rachel Coldbreath spent 20 years working internationally as a technical specialist for law firms, before becoming disabled. She blogs on a variety of topics - from the news and politics, to gardening and how very annoying it is being disabled - over here. She tweets @Chiller

munchkinmaster Sat 06-Apr-13 09:19:49

I agree would have been hard for a housing officer to work out how to house the phillpots with their odd living arrangements so the three bed was probably supposed to meet the needs of mick, his wife and 6 children between 5 and 12 (or 13 I'm sorry I can't remember). So still 3 kids to a room. I think you point that kids on benefits don't share rooms like the working poor are forced to is still undermined.

I'm sorry but the idea of feeding kids in school. Would they go in a special door marked 'mega poor',' what if they got hungry later or wanted a biscuit? Would they need to go up to the school after hours Oliver style?

I think your point is that there is a section (of unknown size) who have become distanced from society and have different beliefs about work, the need to earn your own money etc. I suspect there is some truth in this as there are families of 2nd generation unployment who have lost sight that a different life is possible. We need to think long term about how to re engage with them and especially thier children, bring them back into the mainstream. Demonising this group, equating them to murders, punitive benefits cuts will exclude and ghettoise them further and escalate the problem in the long term.

munchkinmaster Sat 06-Apr-13 09:21:04

Oh and make sure there are jobs to get and that you can live on the wages .......

Xenia Sat 06-Apr-13 09:32:27

I have never said children on benefits do not share rooms. I know the rules and the age limits and also that some are temporarily housed in crowded spaces because a permanent place with enough space is not available. However ultimately a good few do end up in places with more rooms than those not in receipt of benefits endure and that annoys many lower income workers.

I don't the problem with feeding children at school at all. My children have been in schools which can provide a breakfast and some kind of after school club snack and no one feels different for that. In fact it probably means you have a high earning working mother and get all your home work done before you go home if you stay in an after school club rather than some kind of low IQ non working housework at home. It could be a badge of success to have your meals at school. Also if you are very hungry and do not have much money and your parents are between jobs any food is better than none. I just read Escape from Camp 14 - boy born in North Korean prison camp escaped to the West. A lot of that book is about lack of food. As he said if food is short it is the only thing you think about all day long. You not worrying about embarrassment or human rights - you want food itself. If the state is going to give free food I doubt children woudl be rejecting it.

munchkinmaster Sat 06-Apr-13 09:49:57

To clarify I don't have an issue with school meals or free school meals. I however found the argument that it wouldn't be so bad, the kids can eat at school a bit laughable.

I'm not however sure we should adopt a north Korean model of the welfare state where the poor are just concentrating on where there next meal is coming from and forget about thier human rights. I'm sure that's not what you are suggesting though.

moondog Sat 06-Apr-13 10:26:12

Great article you linked to Jenny.
So true-the whole set up is patronising and disempoweirng to those it purports to support.
I like this quote from Grant Schapps.
‘It is not that these people were trying to play the system, so much as these people were forced into a system that played them.’

I absolutely do not blame people for claiming every benefit available to them. Who wouldn't? I would. The point is that this is not a life well lived. It is existing. A very different thing.

moondog Sat 06-Apr-13 10:34:06

'And the use of welfare as a way of allowing society’s ‘betters’ to govern the lives of the poor continues now. Indeed, today’s welfare state is even more annoyingly nannyish than it was 80 years ago.

As the writer Ferdinand Mount says, the post-war welfare state is like a form of ‘domestic imperialism’, through which the state treats the poor as ‘natives’ who must be fed and kept on the moral straight-and-narrow by their superiors.

Mount describes modern welfarism as ‘benign managerialism’, which ‘pacifies’ the lower orders. '

More excellent points. It's the new colonialism.

BagCat Sat 06-Apr-13 10:38:40

Errrrr. Who 'paid' him when he stabbed his first partner and her mother?

Answer - he was a fully paid up employee of Her Majesty's Forces.

Not unemployed. Not on benefits.

He killed because he is an abuser of women, always has been. No other reason. Bless those poor kids. I pity the people who are trying to force political mileage out of the death of children. Benefits are an entirely, 100%, separate issue. Utterly disgusting.

AnAirOfHope Sat 06-Apr-13 10:43:15

Xenia you want to make work pay increase the NMW dont get rid of the welfare state hmm

But you will not listen. I hope you get baned for your vile comment sad

jennywren45 Sat 06-Apr-13 11:09:07

No one wants rid of it just tightened up.

Dawndonna Sat 06-Apr-13 13:09:20

moondog
Here is what a bit of disempowerment does.

Dawndonna Sat 06-Apr-13 13:17:33

As for Jenny's lovely DM article. It's rubbish.
'You get sucked in" only by the rhetoric. It does not have to be a useless way of life. People do not start believing they are incapable, a number of paralympians have already proven that point.
Shapps quote is a none to subtle way of saying it's the fault of the poor.
As for not protesting, I wonder why. It's rubbish of course, groups like The Hardest Hit are protesting, they have conveniently ignored recent protests in Liverpool regarding bedroom tax. Oh, and there is also the fact that those on benefits now get longer sentences than those who aren't. Witness the riots a couple of years back.
So, congratulations Moondog, you must have felt extraordinarily superior reading that article.
Fortunately there are many of us that know the truth.

Xenia Sat 06-Apr-13 15:19:05

There is such a divide, isn't there by the majority of British workers who want benefits to be less generous and for work to pay and those who don't. It's like aid to Africa - what works best is small loans to women running businesses, not knowing you will always be handed food for which you don't work. We need to move the system into it paying people to try to help themselves some how.

The case is brilliant because it reveals problems with the benefits system
you make me feel sick, Xenia

fuzzypicklehead Sat 06-Apr-13 17:07:00

Good post OP.

Your first line highlights my main problem with the Mail's headline--the idea that MP's children were born and "bred to milk the system".

Have they forgotten that 11 of Mick Philpott's children are alive and able to read the papers? It's like the Mail is trying to say "Hey bereaved kids, sorry you lost your siblings and your dad is going to jail for life... BTW, did you know you were only born so he could get money from the government?"

These are innocent kids, their lives have been torn apart through no fault of their own... and here comes The Fail to kick them while they're down. Isn't their situation bad enough without half the country queuing up to tell them "you know, if the system worked better you probably wouldn't exist."?

jennywren45 Sat 06-Apr-13 17:21:26

So, fuzzypickle you reckon that they wouldn't have been screwed up by living in a group with two mothers, god knows how many siblings, open casual sex and violent, lying murderers for parents?

No, just by reading a headine in the DM. hmm

moondog Sat 06-Apr-13 17:27:30

Quite Xenia.
The reality is that the original noble aims of welfare now trap people and crush efforts to break free.
Excellent Telegraph article

You are quite right about international development which is my dh's field. Handouts disempowere people. Truly successful efforts to lift people out of poverty involve schemes such as micro credit as begun in Bangladesh by the fantastic Noble prize winnig Muhammed Yunus

Key aspects of this were
1. encouraging entrepeneurial ventures
2. lending money and not giving
3. lending to women ad not men initially (he knew despite huge opposition that they wouldn't piss it up aganinst the wall like so many men do)

There's a long way to go but micro credit has made a huge difference on the Indian sub continent as I have seen for myself. It is the antithesis of the professional white charidee smart arse zomming around in his 4X4. By the people, for the people.

The ultimate irony is that bloody Labour did more than anyone to entrench the poor and disenfranchised of this nation even more firmly than anyone else in their state of hopelessness, in order to create a client state. May their like hange their heads in shame. These of course were the same people who wanted to bring a mega casino to the poorest part of Manchester.

BagCat Sat 06-Apr-13 17:41:20

Repeating the same mantra in slightly more sarcastic tones doesn't change facts.

Philpott is an abuser of women. Benefits have no connection to the fact that he stabbed two women (whilst employed by the Army), beat God knows how many other women senseless (whilst employed by the Army), manipulated women to the point where they were not allowed front door keys and he called their workplaces (yes, workplaces, because they worked) each day to check up on them, and finally took revenge on an ex who left him - by trying to frame her for arson and in the process, killed six of his own children.

Benefits did not cause that. He caused that. He caused it because he is an established abuser of women over the course of decades.

People in disagreement to this should read the judge's indepth summing up of the case. She is very specific as to the cause of this tragedy from all those decades ago till now - Mick Philpott himself.

The 'welfare' (an American term) debate is different and should be made separately and without reference to six children who died in a fire. It is nothing more than a stain on the memory of those kids to try and labour the cause as being anything other than what it blatantly was.

uncongenial Sat 06-Apr-13 17:46:26

Good post!
The Mail is vile rag, no decent person still reads it, surely.

Dawndonna Sat 06-Apr-13 17:50:21

The ultimate irony is that you can't see the wood from the trees Moondog. You don't answer anything unless it's a supporter. You read a Torygraph article and somehow manage to make it about the poor and the Labour government being to blame for their plight.
It's laughable, really laughable. Or it would be if it weren't so damned sad.

Xenia Sat 06-Apr-13 18:05:33

It is pretty clear to many people even using my analogy with aid to Africa that if you give people the tools to thrive you do them a lot more favours than handouts. I suspect that is the major difference between left and right.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Sat 06-Apr-13 18:39:43

It is pretty clear to many people that normal people don't think 'oh what a brilliant case' when they hear abut six little children burned to death, and it's pretty clear to most people that people who do see that as an opportunity to vent their heartless mindless vain hatred are, generally speaking, arseholes. I suspect that is the main difference between idiots and normal people.

moondog Sat 06-Apr-13 18:40:49

Poor you Dawn, caught up in your own sense of moral outrage.
I read both the left and rightwing press.
How insular to pursue only that which you believe in and which does not challenge you.

lemonmuffin Sat 06-Apr-13 18:47:33

"it's pretty clear to most people that people who do see that as an opportunity to vent their heartless mindless vain hatred are, generally speaking, arseholes. I suspect that is the main difference between idiots and normal people"

Yup. AKA the difference between normal people and The Left.

The Mail is the 2nd best selling paper in the country. How does that make you feel?

Dawndonna Sat 06-Apr-13 18:53:12

Unfortunately Moondog so do I. I'm clever, erudite, funny.
Yes, I have a sense of moral outrage, I'm proud of it. Take a look at some of my other posts to check out what I have to do each day.

jennywren45 Sat 06-Apr-13 18:55:59

I snorted some tea at your post lemon thank you! grin

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